Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Herbs and Memories in a Lazio White

Sensory memories are tricky things. Sometimes you could swear you've seen something or been somewhere or heard a song--and it turns out you're imagining it. I've been blessed with a photographic memory, which can be a curse when loved ones rely on you to remember exactly where the bbq sauce is in the refrigerator (it's in the third bottle in from the left side on the second shelf, by the way). I've also been blessed with more than a touch of the nasal equivalent, though I don't know what that would be called. Smells evoke very powerful and precise memories for me.

Oxford's Covered Market, for instance, has a peculiar smell of age, damp stone, warm meat, wilted flowers, baked sugar, and ripe produce. When I smell any two of these odors in combination, I'm back in England shopping for food and trying to resist buying a tin of Ben's Cookies. Burnt chocolate and coffee--Paris, no question. Hot tar--Washington DC in August, where it is actually so hot that the roads feel spongy underfoot when you step off the curb. Similarly, one whiff of warm, sunbaked herbs releasing their oils into the atmosphere and I'm in Rome in the summertime. This wine reminded me of Rome even though the herbs involved were not the rosemary, basil, sage, and pine that made such an impression on me when I lived there.

The 2005 Sergio Mottura Grechetto was made from organic grapes grown to the north of Rome in the province of Viterbo. I paid $17.99 in a local supermarket, and you can expect to pay the same at most merchants. Grechetto is a Greek grape--and one of those little reminders that maybe the legends about Trojan War refugees settling Lazio may not be far-fetched. It has a thick skin that is good for fighting off mildew, and it is often used as a blending grape in white wines that come from the Orvieto region of Umbria. Here, the grape shines on its own in the hands of one of Lazio's most well-known producers and results in a wine that was golden in color. The most striking and unusual thing about the wine was that the aromas were almost entirely herbal rather than fruity. I smelled tarragon, thyme, eucalyptus, and a bit of warm sage. The herbal notes continued to tingle and develop on the tongue, accompanied by a slightly saline tang and some warm, stony notes. There was no fruit until the aftertaste, when I thought I tasted just a bit of bitter lemon. This wine won't appeal to anyone looking for a fruit bomb of a wine, but for those of you who like something in the herbal and stony category, it represents good QPR.

Because of this wine's abundant herbal notes, it was an excellent partner for some fennel-crusted pork tenderloins and an orzo salad with pesto vinaigrette. I followed this recipe for the pork (and omitted the side dish) and this recipe for the salad (and omitted the shrimp). The herbs used in both dishes were excellent with the wine, and accentuated the complex mixture of flavors. Without food, I suspect this wine would not be as impressive, and it might even strike you as a simple quaffer. With food, however, the wine really strutted all its herbal stuff.

Does the smell of a wine trigger your memories? If so, it's likely that those memories add to your enjoyment of a particular bottle as much as the taste and the friends and family with whom you share it.



Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post, love how wine can evoke strong memories like you describe. I'd like to try this wine too. And that Orzo dish, its a keeper, I made it last month.

Joe said...

Hi Debs - kudos on your continuing adventure into obscure grapes. I have explored the reds of Italy quite extensively, but not the whites. Had a white from Liguria last night that was quite surprising, in a good way (I love surprises). Don't stop at 100 - I think you might be able to hit 200 if your liver holds up!

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks, Lynn and Joe. Lynn, couldn't agree more about the recipe, and without the shrimp it's a great side-dish. Joe, I'm on the "obscure grapes" wagon for the long haul I think. Give more of those Italian whites a chance. I've really fallen in love with them this year.